Outside the Spotlight by Sophie Weeks
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Mystery/Retelling/Novella, 120 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Booktrope Editions
In a world created by human ingenuity and dreams-the world of songs, stories and books-Isabella has lived in Christmas for over four hundred years. But when she seeks a vacation from the endless Christmas puddings and jingle bells, she discovers that the world of ideas is more dangerous than it seems. Given permission to visit the foreign genre of Mystery, Isabella experiences a shocking crime, one that threatens the very fabric of her society. With the help of Sherlock Holmes, she must find the murderer who is picking off literary characters one by one, threatening annihilation in a world where death is unimaginable-after all, a well told tale never dies. As the investigation grows ever more troubling and dangerous, Isabella must learn to trust both her heart and Baker Street's notoriously woman-hating sleuth.
I don't often accept indie or self-pubbed books for review - frankly, I don't often accept something that's not already firmly entrenched in my wishlist - so when I do, it normally has to have something to recommend it very strongly, be it a friend recommendation, killer synopsis, or the most hilarious/oddball/intriguing sales pitch ever. When something does pique my interest, I'll almost always track down or ask for an excerpt and decide from there, as they're normally a pretty good indication of what you can expect from the story and the writing.
The excerpt I received for Outside the Spotlight left me very intrigued and ready for more.
Now, this can still sometimes come back to bite you in the ass, as excerpts can be completely misleading (oh, so you've sent me the one good part of your book, and the rest will make me want to pluck out my own eyeballs? Fabulous). The concept and excerpt of the story may have been full to the brim with quirky charm, but I've been burned by that before; it's a gamble. Fortunately, it was a gamble that paid off. Outside the Spotlight was quirky and charming, but never obnoxiously so. Sophie Weeks shows restraint, pulling together a somewhat Jasper Fforde-esque, genre-mashing, potentially confusing and chaotic story into something cohesive, fast-paced, sweet and utterly engaging. There's a sort of meta-fiction aspect to the whole thing that works really nicely. Weeks shows understanding of storytelling as an art, and excellent knowledge of various genres, stories and styles, weaving them together to create a clever plot and likable characters.
I'm not the worlds biggest fan of Sherlock Holmes (I mean, I like the stories okay-enough, and I lurve me some Benedict Cumberbatch, but real Sherlock fans are rabid), so I was a little dubious of whether I would enjoy a story where he features prominently; frankly, he was one of my favorite parts of the story. I found myself waiting for him to reenter the story, eager for him when he left, and loving the scenes between him and Isabella. Now, those rabid Sherlock fans I mentioned may take issue with the "notoriously woman-hating sleuth" being involved in a romance, but I think most readers will find something to love in this incarnation of him. And given the way the story is set up, and how we're sort of seeing the characters outside of their stories, I think even some diehard Sherlock-purists will be willing to make allowances and just go with it.
And if you do go with it, you'll find yourself in for a short and sweet and very unique story, with instantly engaging, fresh takes on familiar characters, and a story and style that's memorable and - I really want to use another word instead of charming, since I keep saying it, but the fact is, that's what it is. I was charmed.